Hidden Lake Gardens reaches for the sky

The peacefulness of observing perennial gardens or hiking among the sassafras and pine trees at Hidden Lake Gardens have been enjoyed by thousands of Michiganders over the years. 

Located on M-50 in Tipton, Hidden Lake Gardens encourages visitors to stroll the grounds and get up close to native trees, plants and flowers.

Surprisingly, many visitors explore Hidden Lake only by car, following six miles of roads through woods and gardens.

A new attraction could change that and bring visitors closer to nature. Hidden Lake Gardens just opened Reach for the Sky Canopy Walk, a pair of connecting suspension bridges that allows visitors up-close viewing of leaves, birds, insects and wildlife. 

The Reach for the Sky Canopy Walk stands at tree level, high above the ground, allowing visitors to enjoy a new perspective of the trees and wildlife on the grounds of the gardens in rural Lenawee County in southern Michigan.

“Many visitors simply drive through the garden, but do not leave their cars to experience all that nature has to offer,” says Jessica Goodrich, who is marketing and publicity director for the gardens. 

What’s happening: Hidden Lake Gardens just opened Reach for the Sky Canopy Walk, a new attraction aimed at bringing visitors closer to nature and out of their cars. It’s also hoped the tree-level trail will bring more visitors to the 755-acre park outside Tipton, as well as provide additional educational and outreach opportunities.

What is Hidden Lake Gardens: Owned and operated by Michigan State University’s Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, Hidden Lake Gardens is home to a bonsai tree collection, a conservatory, and 12 miles of hiking trails. Visitors can hike on their own or join Grounds manager Jon Genereaux on occasional guided treks. The Gardens also offer educational programs year-round at its Visitor Center. The Visitor Center includes a library, meeting area, gift shop, auditorium, and gift shop. There is also an outdoor classroom near the canopy walk they hope to use moving forward. 

A visitor strolls along the suspension bridge.

“Our really big impact is getting people out in nature,” Goodrich says. “We want people out here, up close observing nature—where you can hear the birds chirping, you can get up close with the animals, trees.”

The property was purchased by an Adrian businessman, Harry A. Fee, who hoped to use the original 200 acres for farming. He later realized the land was not suitable for farming. He cleaned out the lake and pond, and landscaped shrubs, perennials, and a rock garden. Fee  donated the gardens to Michigan State University in 1945. Fee’s hope was the gardens would benefit and educate the public. 

Other benefactors have donated buildings for the visitor center and conservatory. Plant collections continue to grow through donations and are maintained by staff and volunteers. 

Behind the project: The project was spearheaded by a local and frequent garden visitor, Chuck Gross. Gross approached Paul Pfeifer, the park’s managing director, in 2017, hoping to work together to make the gardens more known to the public and get all visitors out walking the grounds.  Pfeifer and Gross eventually landed on the idea of building a canopy walk. Phoenix Experiential Designs designed the structure, which was originally meant to be open in spring 2022 but a rainy spring and supply chain issues delayed progress.

A ribbon cutting was held earlier this year.
About the Sky Walk: The actual walk starts following an uphill half mile from the Hidden Gardens Visitor Center. The canopy walk stretches 726 feet with two suspension bridges measuring 374 feet providing views of the park’s endless greenery and wildlife. The structure is tree-level, standing 65 feet above ground. 

Goodrich says the hope is that visitors leave with a new perspective. “We hope they leave with a desire to continue to immerse themselves in nature. The canopy walk is a celebration of nature and offers endless possibilities for the benefit and education of the surrounding communities and beyond for years to come.”

Hidden Lake Gardens is located at 6214 West Monroe Road, Tipton and is open to the public 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The Canopy Walk is included in the admission price. 

Courtney Spitlzey is a first-grade teacher in Portland, Michigan. She enjoys writing during her time off. She has written previously for Rural Innovation Exchange.
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